Knowing Your Blood Pressure
Many people don't have regular checkups or measure their own blood pressure accurately.
An estimated 50 million Americans have high blood pressure, yet almost 25% do not know it. Unfortunately, many people do not have their blood pressure checked regularly. Others measure their blood pressure themselves at home but do not measure it accurately.
Left untreated, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can pose serious health risks including heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. With medication, diet and other lifestyle changes, the majority of people with high blood pressure can keep it under control.
Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. People at higher risk, including those with a family history of hypertension, African-Americans, overweight people, and people with diabetes, should have their blood pressure checked more often.
A blood-pressure reading consists of two measurements, the systolic blood-pressure reading and the diastolic pressure reading. The systolic reading indicates the force the heart must exert to pump blood to the arteries in order to supply blood to the rest of the body. The diastolic reading is the resting pressure inside the arteries when the heart muscle relaxes. Hypertension is usually defined as a systolic pressure of 140 or more and a diastolic reading of 90 or more.
The traditional method of taking blood pressure requires one person to check your pressure using an inflatable arm cuff above the elbow, a stethoscope and a monitor with a mercury scale called a sphygmomanometer. Today, many people measure their own blood pressure at home with equipment purchased at drugstores, medical supply houses or discount stores. Both electronic and manual devices are available. Electronic devices are much easier to use and also more expensive. Devices equipped with an arm cuff are more accurate than devices that measure blood pressure in the finger.
If you monitor your blood pressure at home, take steps to make the readings as accurate as possible. Taking three readings at each sitting works well for many people. Discard the first reading, then record the second and third reading. Take your blood pressure at different times throughout the day and mark the date and time next to each reading. Record any notable circumstances, for example, poor sleep during the pervious night or recent return from a brisk walk.
In the last two decades, the number of people who are aware they have high blood pressure, are getting it treated and have it under control has significantly increased. The improvement is due to extensive education of the public and health care providers. Recently, the diagnosis "pre-hypertension" has been applied to people who have systolic blood pressures from 120 to 139, or diastolic pressures from 80 to 89. Identifying pre-hypertension as a risk factor for the development of hypertension allows these people to monitor their blood pressure more closely and to modify their lifestyle so they may delay their need for medications. While more people who have hypertension know about it, the number of those who have it under control is not as great as it should be.
Many people can lower blood pressure with lifestyle changes only, such as controlling weight and increasing physical activity, and may not need medication. Reducing salt in the diet and decreasing alcohol consumption also can help bring blood pressure down. The most important thing is to know your blood pressure and, when it's too high, be willing to do something about it.